Lessons for Journalists from a Journalist

Journalists who learn the rules will be respected and assisted, according to Irish Times journalist, Colm Keena.

Keena was speaking at the Cleraun Media Conference and had some useful lessons for journalists.

Keena said his personal experience had shown him that people are more likely to have goodwill towards and help a journalist if they can see the journalist made an effort to do some groundwork and educate themselves about whatever they are investigating. He recommended that a journalist should have at least a basic knowledge of the workings of whatever they are investigating and then look for guidance.

Keena also said that talking to people was essential when conducting an investigation. He said that there was no room for modesty and that journalists should talk to the person directly and not their assistant. Keena emphasised that perhaps the most important thing a journalist can do is ask, and that the worst that could happen would be that they will be told to get lost. He also advised journalists to listen carefully as you never know what you might find out or what someone might want to tell you.

Keena recommended that a journalist should have at least a basic knowledge of the workings of whatever they are investigating and then look for guidance.

Keena recommended that journalists should pursue any leads that come to mind and not assume that someone else will think of pursuing the same lead.

He suggested that journalists should pitch a story fairly and understand the rules so that they’re not printing things that are factually incorrect. He noted that if journalists are constantly getting things wrong, people begin to lose faith. However, if a journalist has a reputation of getting things right, people will give the journalist respect and be more inclined to talk. As Keena noted, “if you’re casual with the facts people begin to lose faith.”

Keena recommended that journalists should pursue any leads that come to mind and not assume that someone else will think of pursuing the same lead.

Through an anecdote about one of his favourite places, the Registry of Deeds, Keena stressed the importance of knowing where to look and how different databases work. He also cautioned that while the Internet can be hugely helpful, there is a tendency to over rely on it. He also noted that the popularity of the Internet has had a negative effect on newspaper sales. This in turn tends to dictate what articles should focus on, as newspapers need to satisfy their readership and advertisers.


Keena believes that there is no substitute for making phone calls and actually going to a location yourself and talking to people, rather than doing everything from your desk. He suggested that it was morally wrong for a journalist to write about people and places without going there and experiencing it.

He used the example of attacks on the Quinn businesses which happened a few years ago and said it opened his eyes when he saw for himself what was going on. He believes that going to a location and talking to people can “stop you being a swine” and “give you pause for thought”.

Giving advice to new journalists, Keena said that getting a lot of hits on a story is not the mark of a good journalist, instead he recommended getting good stories, which provide career satisfaction but will also hopefully run for a few weeks. These should give a journalist status and allow them to pursue more interesting stories.

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